By CC Kallam | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Briar Chapel resident Ronald Bousquet, 71, has competed in archery in the county and state senior games since 2018, winning first place in the 2020 games. “There are so many great senior athletes, but I am inspired mostly by those who continue to show up and compete with a good attitude regardless of their finish,” Ronald says. “It’s fun to watch some amazing senior athletes still performing at the expert level, but there is plenty of room for average people like myself.” He shares advice on staying fit in one’s later years: “The secret as a senior seems to be to not get hurt,” he says. “It can take a long time to recover. My daily activities are mostly modest physical exercise and long walks. There are specific archery exercises to do, but it is mostly a mental stamina sport, and fitness develops the more you do it.”
Lilian Pruett, 91, entered the games for her third time playing table tennis. “I had about 65-plus years of interruption between when I quit playing and when I resumed again,” she says. Lilian started playing the sport again for the thrill of competition. The pandemic made it hard for her to hone her skills the past year at Carolina Meadows. “We have not been able to play locally for a year,” she says. “Once it was allowed again for us to get together and start playing – March 29 this year – our small group appeared. We had a ball, even though everybody, of course, had not played for a year. It was just a terrific success.” Lilian says the return to in-person play has made all the difference. “The fact that I could actually see a living human being and talk to them at the same time, which was rather difficult during the lockdown because I live by myself in a villa, all of that [was] a tremendously uplifting event.”
Dan Tunstall, 80, cycled in the games for the fourth time this spring. “The thing is, anyone who cares about sports and does well or wants to do well, they always have people behind them,” he says, giving a shoutout to James Ruffin and Kim Conway, his trainers and support system at Carolina Meadows. Like many other local athletes, Dan appreciates the Old North State’s terrain. “There’s a lot of encouragement around here for riding bikes, and North Carolina is good because you’ve got lots of hills, unlike Illinois, where I grew up,” he says. “[Illinois] was all flat, a different kind of racing.” Dan notes his improvements since he started exercising again. “I think I hit my peak at the age of 12,” he says. “Now, I’m back at it. I’ve lost 35 pounds from what I weighed when I first retired.”
Steve Barrett, 88, a first- place swimmer in the 2019 games, has participated in national and international games most years since 2008. He has a collection of medals – 31 gold, 16 silver and 10 bronze – and he has set five records. The Chatham County Senior Games in 2008 were his first swimming competitions since his years at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “I swam during three years of college but was the worst swimmer on the team,” Steve says. When he’s not swimming laps, Steve gives free lessons to adults and children at Carolina Meadows and the Fearrington Swim and Croquet Club, bringing him another sense of accomplishment. “I find it very gratifying to see how they improve,” he says, adding that he is more resilient in his older years and doesn’t plan on retiring from his activities any time soon.
Chester Hwang, a 66-year-old transplant from Maryland, joined the games for the first time this year, competing in tennis. His friends at the 55-plus community, Carolina Preserve, encouraged him to enter. Chester has played tennis on and off since 1986 and advises others getting back into the sport to “always warm up before playing the game.” The former chemist has a theory about retiring in warmer climates. “I assume that the weather and exercise really helped me a lot,” he says. “The weather is warmer here than in Maryland. I play tennis four or five days a week, and some days I go for two or three hours. The scene here is helping me to build up my immune system; my psoriasis is better in North Carolina than in Maryland, and I lost 20 pounds.”